ReAnimation and ReInvention
Similar to the portrayals of African Americans in the earliest days of television and film, early Black characters in comics were largely relegated to background roles or were characterized by racist stereotypes. As more Black characters came to the forefront of these stories, their depiction began to disrupt the narrative of vulnerable, incompetent, and weak Black characters and normalized the idea and visual depiction of Black power. Afrofuturism is visualized within these comic creations as Writers and illustrators from all backgrounds now utilize the limitless domain of Afrofuturism to create worlds where the Black diaspora and science fiction intertwine.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Marvel Comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced Black Panther to engage more deeply with their Black readers. Kirby explained, “I came up with the Black Panther because I realized I had no Black (people) in my strip.” As the comic industry gradually shifted to recognize its Black readership, more Black artists and illustrators were hired, and more Black characters were introduced.
The ruler and protector of a technologically advanced African kingdom, Black Panther was the first Black hero in American mainstream comics with not only superpowers but a deep and evolving storyline. The creation of Black Panther opened avenues for more Black characters in comics and paved the way for a generation of Black writers, illustrators, and animators to create new settings and larger worlds for Black characters.
These trading cards feature the multiracial superhero group the Blood Syndicate, from Milestone Media. Founded in 1993 by a group of African American writers and artists including Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle, and Michael Davis, Milestone Media followed McDuffie’s vision of writing Black stories with Black characters to “present a view of the world that’s wider than the world we’ve seen before.”
African American creators like the illustrator Dawud Anyabwile and his brothers Guy A. Sims and Jason E. Sims independently produced 11 issues of the Brotherman comics in 1990. In 1995, they opened Big City Comics World Headquarters in a Philadelphia storefront, where they taught art classes and published comics. Writing stories with Black heroes, villains, and settings, Brotherman was a unique and independently produced story in the predominantly white world of 1990s comics.
Brazilian artist Hugo Canuto created “The Orixas” comic series using heroes based on the “Orixa” spirits of Candomblé, a diasporic faith descended from the Yoruba religion. Though the Yoruba people are originally from southwestern Nigeria, they have contributed to the cultures of the Caribbean and South America, particularly Brazil. Canuto modeled his inaugural cover on the iconic cover of 1964’s The Avengers, Number 4.
Debuting in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a weekly illustrated panel, “Rythm Mastr” by Kerry James Marshall is a comic series that focuses on the lives and exploits of its characters in an alternative, Black-centered reality. “A lot of Black superheroes just ended up fighting petty crime. So, the underlying concern for my story was the legendary struggle for the ‘souls of Black folk,’ to borrow a phrase from W. E. B. Du Bois,” Marshall said.